During July 2020 Prestige’s Vivien Natasen interviewed South Africa’s celebrity designer and style icon, Gert-Johan Coetzee, exploring his thoughts on a post-COVID world in fashion.
[00:05] – Vivien Natasen – Prestige
Good morning, Gert-Johan Coetzee. Firstly, it’s great to see you again. I think it’s been a long, hard year. It’s July already and the country’s been in lockdown since the end of March. So I’m sure it’s been difficult times for everyone. So welcome to our Prestige audience and welcome to Gert-Johan. We spent this morning out at Sandton City looking at your great installation of dresses and we’ll talk a little bit about that now. But today is really to get your thoughts on where things are at, where do you think things are going to go and how do we go forward as a country from here with regard to fashion.
[00:48] – Gert-Johan Coetzee
Thank you so much. Welcome to my studio. It’s such an honor to have the Prestige family back.
[00:53] – Vivien Natasen – Prestige
OK, great, thanks Gert. How has COVID been for you?
[00:59] – Gert-Johan Coetzee
I think COVID -19 has been super stressful for everybody, especially in the eventing space. As we all know from the from March, there has been no events and I think especially the 14th of March was quite a big day in a lot of matric girls and boys lives where their Matric Farewell was already postponed then because of COVID -19. So it is definitely a challenge. It’s definitely so different. I literally can’t even remember what I was like pre- COVID because I think we’ve all grown so much as humans throughout this experience. And it made me really sit up and notice how sustainable we have to be as humans. And I think the fashion industry is known to be one of the most polluting industries in the world. And as a fashion designer, I’m really accepting the challenge to make beautiful, sustainable clothes for the people to then buy. And I think that is going to be what the world will look like post- COVID – much more sustainable than we were.
[02:02] – Prestige
OK, so let’s talk about the type of events. So you mentioned Matric Farewells, obviously great events like the Durban July has now gone into a remote-type capability. Functions like weddings? How do you think weddings are going to happen?
[02:19] – Gert-Johan Coetzee
So the one thing about weddings is that you cannot keep a bride from her one day. I always say that a wedding is your biggest red carpet moment of your life, and every girl wants that. And I think most of my brides has postponed their weddings. I think just before lock down a few tried to just quickly squeeze their wedding in, but unfortunately, most weddings were cancelled back then. And still there’s no light really at the end of the tunnel for when we will be able to get married again but we have started very slowly to consult with brides again and to really just see when we’ll be able to open up, because I think perhaps December, January, we’ll be able to have small weddings. The fact of the matter is, if it’s not safe, then we shouldn’t do it. So, until then, we are selling sustainable fashion.
[03:09] – Vivien Natasen – Prestige
Yeah, I think we are totally on your page. We’re sitting with a situation of unpredictability. The current spike that’s happening now in South Africa in July is also cause for concern, as lockdowns have sort of tightened up further again, which means the prediction of when an actual event can happen [is impossible]. I think from what we are seeing, there’s a fair bit of downscaling as well. So you limit exposure to 50 to 100 people, max, over time and people are more conscious. What we also are seeing is a bit of travel and how that’s going to be affected and weddings might start to happen in more remote locations with smaller crowds from what we are starting to see as a trend. Let’s talk about casual wear. I see you’ve now got a range that’s starting to come out. Is that driven from COVID or was it something that started before?
[04:01] – Gert-Johan Coetzee
I think luckily we’ve always kind of like massaged this brand. It’s called Gert. So it is our diffusion line. It’s fun. It’s young. It’s daywear. It’s lots of active wear. It is corsets, it’s hoodie’s, it’s sports luxe. It’s very much what every girl can wear day to day moving around. And we just kind of move the direction more from office wear to loungewear, which was so effortless because the trends at hand is anyway a much more casual look and feel. So it’s been effortless and we are doing so well with our leggings and hoodies and I’ve just put corsets over hoodies and that’s just something new. And I think as long as there’s something exciting out there to to buy and to wear, even if it is just for Instagram, we all still want to look good. And I think with quarantine, we’ve all put on a bit of quarantine weight, so a corset’s just great to snatch that all the way back. But it’s been it’s been great. It’s been a challenge, but it’s been a lot of growth. We’ve been doing masks. In the beginning of COVID I’d been trying to find a way to keep my employees busy and try and generate an income that way, but I think it has changed into a whole passion project of masks. Now you need a mask to match every outfit, because now when we go out to the shops, it’s an event and you want to dress up a little bit. So masks are doing so well. We have the beautiful diffusion line and then also we have the perfume that is just doing exceptionally well. So we have lots of other things happening to keep things exciting. I do miss doing these big elaborate ball gowns and going to these glamorous events, but I’m sure they’ll be back in a different way soon, like you said.
[05:41] – Vivien Natasen – Prestige
Sure. So let’s talk a little bit about online. I mean, obviously, the physical retail is under pressure. Pure lockdown means it doesn’t happen altogether. And then over time, the online aspects will start to become more and more important. We as South Africans have always resisted online shopping, but I think it’s become a way of life forced upon us through COVID. What are your thoughts around online and where it’s going to go?
[06:06] – Gert-Johan Coetzee
So, the number one question I get asked so often is “Gert, why don’t you have a physical store”? And I’ve always said that I’m rather going to invest in a great online store, and I’ve been doing this for about three years now. So by the time COVID hit, I already had all the logistics and a quite successful online store running. So it was just really making that bigger and teaching people more. And I think it’s about making people feel safe about shopping online. So my whole online experience is all about you and what you get out of it and how are we going to protect you and, if you’re not happy with anything, making it so easy for you to return it, just so that you don’t feel scared or worried about shopping online. And I think that is going to be the future of online shopping. Teaching the audience first that it’s safe and secondly, how to do it and that you can just return things. It’s just like going to a normal shop. It’s just ten times safer and you get to do it from the absolute leisure of your lounge.
[07:06] – Vivien Natasen – Prestige
Yeah, that’s right. I think we’ve all taken to the online through either being forced to it or you were adapting to it from the start. But the ability to return I think is the differentiator. There’s too many cuts and too many different sizes and people are not alike. So you’re a bespoke type entity. So I’m sure there’s a bit of adapting to make your model work in an online environment, too.
[07:32] – Gert-Johan Coetzee
So I think what made our online store more successful than others, because we do get reports and currently we are in the top three online stores in South Africa, and why I think that is, is because of our social media backing. We have a large following on all platforms. And it is very easy to just put something on a mannequin and show people a video of what it looks like so people don’t fall in love with it at the online store. They already fall in love with it on social media, seeing it from different angles, perhaps even seeing their favourite celebrity wearing it. And then that pulls through to the to the online sale. And I think that is just really reimagining what online shopping is about. And for us, that has been a great success.
[08:14] – Vivien Natasen – Prestige
OK, that’s great. You’re quite passionate about the perfume that you’ve recently launched. Tell us a little bit more about that and where you plan to go with it.
[08:23] – Gert-Johan Coetzee
So we went all the way to Grasse, France, where perfume is from. The first commercial perfume from there. I went to perfume school and really learned the ins and outs about finding your fragrance and who I am as a designer when it comes to fragrance. And then just meeting all the famous famous noses that that works in Grasse. I was actually quite starstruck. And so it was a wonderful experience in collaborating, learning all the different notes and bringing something back to South Africa that is truly an essence of Africa. I wanted it to reflect the soil of Africa, and I think we’ve got that down pretty good. I think girls and boys want to feel good. And I wanted to blur the line between sexuality to come out with a unisex fragrance. And it’s just been received very well locally and internationally. So we’ve had a lot of international orders and also locally. It’s just so beautiful because I think it’s such a true reflection on South Africa that it’s selling quite well worldwide.
[09:26] – Vivien Natasen – Prestige
OK, you did, off the record earlier (but I’ll bring it on record now) talk about the next fragrance to be launched. Tell us a little bit about that.
[09:34] – Gert-Johan Coetzee
So originally the next fragrance was supposed to come out in September. I went back to Grasse now in December and made another beautiful, beautiful perfume that is sweeter. It is so stunning. It’s floral, it is also unisex and it is so long lasting. And I think that is what I want a Gert-Johan Coetzee fragrance to be known as, is that signature scent that just follows you around the whole day. And we are launching it soon. With COVID you can never say when it will be out in stores but it will be at Skin Cosmetics and shopgert.com quite soon, hopefully.
[10:09] – Vivien Natasen – Prestige
OK. So where to from here? Where do you see the Gert brand going?
[10:13] – Gert-Johan Coetzee
So we are definitely focusing a lot on sustainability. I want to create beautiful clothes that are not as impactful on the environment and I think that is where all design should go from here. I think we should really ask ourselves “this T-shirt that I am buying today, where will that land up in the next 5 years?”. Where do you see that happening and really shape your purchases around that. So less polyester and more natural, and if it is polyester, let’s look at recycled material so that everything is not fresh and new and virgin, so that we can really be kinder to Mother Earth because if COVID has taught us anything is that all us humans are very vulnerable to the planet and anything can happen and we really just have to take care of our environment a little bit better.
[10:57] – Vivien Natasen – Prestige
OK, so if there is one message you would like to give to our audience and yours, what would that be?
[11:03] – Gert-Johan Coetzee
I think that the message would be, when it comes to fashion, that you really should think more before you buy. You should really try and see how often you would wear something and how would it fit into your wardrobe. I think as South Africans and a developing country we have a very quick buying culture, you see it, you buy it now, but I think we should just really invest more in quality rather than quantity.
[11:30] – Vivien Natasen – Prestige
OK, thanks so much for your time Gert. It’s been great seeing you again and we look forward to further interactions with you in this post-COVID world.
[11:37] – Gert-Johan Coetzee
Thank you – that was beautiful, thanks.